Hostages To Fortune

    By B.G. Verghese
    The fiasco over the proposed National Centre for Counter-Terrorism last week appears to have less to do with “federalism” than petty political pique on the part of State governments that want to settle real and imagined scores with the Centre. The prime example of blackmail is Mamata Bannerjee’s wanting a three year debt bail-out from the Centre “or else”! If Mamata blames 34-years of Left rule for Bengal’s bankruptcy, her own stewardship of the Railway Ministry earlier and, now, as chief minister hardly offers a shining example of financial prudence. Likewise, Narendra Modi. He has so misused the police and state machinery for partisan ends that he dare not let something like the NCTC intrude into his dubious domain.  

    Many others are indulging in political gamesmanship and seeking bargaining chips with which to confront the Centre. The stubborn failure of the States in undertaking police reform shows that many chief ministers do not want the police to function as instruments of the rule of law but to remain subject to manipulation by the rule of men for personal and party-political aggrandisement.

    The recent spate of Maoist hostage-taking and brutal murder of innocents across several states shows that while Naxals operate under a  unified command and to a common purpose, namely people’s war and class annihilation, the States are handicapped for acting separately and piecemeal in tackling a common interstate and national menace. While the Maoists are quick to criticise maladministration and lack of development, the pattern of abductions and killing shows that they fear administrative penetration into interior areas, certainly good administration, and wish to thwart connectivity and development so as to sustain their “cause” of fighting historic exploitation and neglect. 

    Despite the Centre proposing amendments to the standing operating procedures  pertaining to the NCTC that would build Centre-State jointness into the process, the States baulked and the best offer made was that a sub-committee of CMs be set up to study the matter further. This is unexceptionable but for the fact that this is a suggestion that could have been made ab initio. So for the moment the score has moved from deuce to advantage Maoists.

    The other question raised but not meaningfully discussed by and with the CMs is whether there is need for a common, national hostage policy or, more accurately a national hostage strategy, in dealing with Maoists, terroists, jihadis, insurgents, hijackers, whomsoever. To negotiate is not to surrender but serves to gain time to discover something of the where, why, how and what and the mind-set of the perpetrators even while preparing for a counter-strike. Low cost bargains might be struck as innocent lives cannot be lightly shed and popular and police/SF morale is important.  The matter should not be shelved but must be meaningfully pursued as much planning, organisation, equipping and coordination across states, national boundaries and jurisdictions is required and a national consensus established.

    If the States have shown self-serving negativism, the Centre has scarcely covered itself with glory. The Inter-State Council under Article 263, a handy mechanism to resolve federal issues and build consensus on inter-state matters, has remained more or less dormant. Even otherwise, circulation of draft policy papers and convening special meetings of CMs to consider them has not been done to the extent necessary or in a timely manner. The Centre cannot play the role of a distant Uncle but must act as a partner and friend.

    The Centre has administratively initiated certain actions to beef up the law and order component of the anti-Maoist campaign. This is certainly a necessary but insufficient condition for success. The most backward and worst Naxal-affected areas have been mapped out and are being given special funds and personnel to bolster the administration, develop essential infrastructure and stimulate development. Idealistic youth of high competence are also being trained to serve in these areas. These measures are not to be scoffed at but beg the question in an important sense.

    It is moot to raise the question of “root causes”. This is often used as a ploy to evade facing issues squarely. Yet root causes cannot be brushed aside and vital pre-history ignored. This, alas, is what has happened in considering the Naxal question. The tribal people were foremost in resisting colonial rule in defence of their historic rights. So it was no surprise that at Independence the Founding Fathers negotiated and wrote a special social contract with tribal India in the Constitution. This was incorporated in the Sixth Schedule for the Northeast and the Fifth Schedule for the rest of India. The 5th schedule carved out a wholly separate administrative, legal, representative and financial regime for these regions with oversight entrusted to Governors acting directly under the guidance of the President of India. This protocol was to be both a shield and an enabler for the peace, tranquillity and orderly and equitable development of these areas for the common good.

    The Governor was vested with special powers to screen and bar any or all legislation, Central and State, in their application to the Scheduled Areas. Tribal advisory councils were to be created with a special role. The Governor was required to make an annual report to the President on the governance of these areas which, after duly deliberation, not excluding Parliamentary scrutiny, could be returned with directives for further action. Special funding could be charged (not voted) under Article 275 and gram sabhas were to be nodal points in administration and for granting permission for exploitation of natural resources.

    Tragically, the entire scheme was officially trashed quite early on at the Centre and in the States. Governors are today strangers to tribal governance and national and state laws override tribal jurisdiction. Tribal advisory councils have been co-opted. Governors’ reports are a dead letter. The gram sabhas, despite being reinforced under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1995 (PESA), have been by-passed. And as punishment stations, these areas are grossly under-administered, under-policed and under developed though open to the ravages of unregulated and illegal resource plunder and excesses by the mining, forest, minor forest produce and liquor mafia.

    The vacuum created by the State’s retreat was filled by the Naxals who play Robin Hood to exploit tribal (and dalit) grievances until these innocent people are firmly in their grip.  The analysis given here has been repeated earlier and subsequently by official commissions and committees only to be ignored. The restoration of the basic constitutional, legal, administrative, financial and grassroots framework of the 5th Schedule is absolutely essential to partnership in progress and overcoming Naxal hegemony in tribal India.   

    A single-line administration with specially selected, trained and rewarded cadres is also necessary on the lines of the former Indian Frontier Administrative Service. And, finally, corporate India that wants to and is needed for converting the mineral, water, forest and bio-diversity wealth of the Fifth Schedule areas into jobs, incomes and infrastructure can and must be made a partner instead of being treated as an enemy in order to help build the future of and for Tribal India.



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